May 17, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
1 Peter 3:13-22 and John 14:15-21
When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we’ll see. No, I won’t be afraid. Oh, I won’t be afraid, just as long as you stand, stand by me…
That beloved classic was written and released by Ben E. Kent in 1961, but it has been performed by countless artists over the years: John Lennon, Johnny Cash, Tracy Chapman, KC and the Sunshine band, even the alternative rock group Florence + the Machine. A Stephen King short story was adapted for the big screen and renamed after this song, which was the theme song for the movie, Stand By Me. One group that did an amazing cover of this song is Playing for Change, an organization seeking to work for unity by uniting street performers around the world in singing these classic greats using modern technology. In their cover of this beautiful song, the first performer, Roger Ridley from Santa Monica, CA, said this of Stand By Me before he started singing:
This song says, no matter who you are, no matter where you go in your life, at some point you’re going to need somebody to stand by you.
It is that truth-that we all need someone to stand by us-and the promise of the song that “I will stand by you,” “I got you,” that has made it a timeless classic.
But did you know, Ben E. King actually based his song on a spiritual, a hymn, by Charles A. Tindley entitled “Stand By Me, Father.” Both Tindley’s hymn and King’s classic song echoes elements of scripture in their lyrics, and both directly quote elements of Psalm 46, which we heard read on Easter Sunday. Stand By Me reflects the promise found throughout scripture, the promise of God’s enduring and steadfast love and presence—the promise that God is WITH us ALWAYS. However, this beloved classic resounds in a profound way with our gospel reading today found in the 14th chapter of John. Today’s reading is a continuation of last week’s reading about untroubled hearts, our Father’s house having many rooms, and that we know the way to the place where Jesus is going. Today’s reading continues to offer beautiful words of comfort to the disciples on the eve of Jesus’ death. God will give another Advocate, as Jesus has been their Advocate, the Spirit-The Spirit of Truth-who will be with us forever and always. Jesus will not leave us orphaned-abandoned. Yes, Jesus is leaving, Jesus goes to the cross. But Jesus is always in the process of coming to us. After resurrection and ascension, God gifts to us the new Advocate, the Spirit of Truth, the Forever Presence, through whom Jesus comes to us continually.
“Advocate,” translated in some versions as “Comforter” or “Counselor.” In the Greek, the word is ‘Paraclete’ (that is Paraclete…not parakeet…we didn’t mistake the symbol for the Holy Spirit-it is still the dove). This beautiful word, Paraclete, literally means ‘one who comes alongside you,’ ‘one who stands by you,’ ‘one who travels beside you.’ What a beautiful promise of comfort to give to disciples then and now as we seek to walk faithfully through good times and bad times, through sorrow and joy, and everything in between. We are NEVER alone! Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus stands by us, especially when the night has come…and the land is dark…and we aren’t even sure we can see the moon. The Spirit of Truth comes alongside us and helps us to do, as Peter says in his letter today, what is right, what is good.
This is the essence of Peter’s first letter in our New Testament reading today-to guide us in doing what is right. Peter’s letter is a guide to living as a community of Jesus followers in a hostile world. It is a manual for holding tight to the Living Hope that is the gift of Jesus, gifted to us through the resurrection. Living as Jesus’ community calls us to do good for all, to embody Jesus, to embody the Spirit and be advocates for a hurting world. We have One who will stand by us always. We, in turn, come alongside others, advocate with those in need, until they too can recognize the Holy Comforter beside them, until they see the Advocate coming to them in you…see the Advocate in themselves.
That is the call of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples at that Last Supper, the goal of Peter’s guiding letter to the struggling church, the urging of both of our scriptures to us in our readings today. We are called to wake up, to become aware, of the Holy Spirit standing by us—dwelling, abiding within us—and so comforted and so assured, we can’t help but go alongside anyone struggling and in need so they too will come to know the Living Hope that dwells within them as well.
This ministry is urgently needed in our world today. Everyone is struggling. EVERYONE is struggling. We all yearn to reclaim what we have lost, to snap our fingers and have it all be just a bad dream and life can return to ‘normal.’ In this struggling it is easy to lose sight of the One who is standing by us, the Living Hope that is within us. It is vital, it is critical, that we come alongside one another in creative ways to remind one another that they, that WE, are NOT alone…to turn our focus on love, on hope.
So…who will you call today? Whose face flits across your mind, whose name whispers in your heart? Call them. Who will you send a card to today? Whose house will you walk by, drive by, and make some joyful noise outside of so that they will notice and see the joy that is in you? What small gift might you send, or ecard via email, or sweet gif in a text? Here at the church we are forming a rock garden on our front steps—a sign of joy and hope to one another and to our larger community. What might you contribute to the rock garden, a joyfully decorated stone? Or bring some sidewalk chalk (observing social distance) and decorate the church’s sidewalks with messages of love! How will you share the divine comfort of the Spirit in these weeks leading up to the great festival of Pentecost, a celebration of the Spirit?
Beloved family of God, if the sky we look upon should tumble and fall, and the mountains should crumble to the sea, we won’t cry. We WON’T cry. No, we won’t shed a tear, because we have One who will stand, stand by us.
Holy Spirit, Truth divine,
dawn upon this heart of mine.
Word of God and inward light,
wake my spirit, clear my sight.
(United Methodist Hymnal #465)